Last week I spoke at the ABA Tech Show on “Where Are We Going,” in which Toby Brown, Marc Lauritsen, and I talked about the future of legal technology.

My key point was that while new technology often seems hard, the real difficulty typically revolves around change, not the technology itself. To illustrate this [see presentation below], I outlined a spectrum of new technologies ranked from easiest to hardest with respect to change (1 being easiest, 5 hardest):

(1) New software that requires learning only a simple, new interface, for example, the new generation of full-text search tools designed to simplify knowledge management and e-discovery.

(2) New communication tools such as blogs and webinars. These are easy and cheap but using them means some changes in thinking and behavior. Individual lawyers can act on their own, however, so the barrier is relatively low.

(3) New analytic approaches enabled by technology such as profitability analysis, business metrics, and workforce automation. Adoption is hard because it requires managerial action and change by many lawyers.

(4) New work patterns that technology supports such as working virtually, offshoring work, and adopting project management discipline. These are very hard because they require institutional action.

(5) New business models such as delivering interactive advice, managing contracts for clients, and developing preventive law systems. These are hardest because they require not just institutional change, but also market change.

The point is that in considering new technology, firms need to identify where the real challenge lies, from quick and easy training to difficult institutional and market changes. Firms should start with an analysis of their business need and opportunity, then realistically assess the individual and institutional appetite for change. Only then can they make an informed decision about a new technology and its potential payback.